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Thu, 10/14/2010 - 4:55PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

I came to Australia to write a book about home, moving here to search for a definition of the word. Instead, I found it. I see home in the beautiful Opera House that was once, to me,  just a picture the fish made in Finding Nemo. I see it in the sunset bat flight at Hyde Park, in the overcrowded shore line of Bondi Beach, in the yellow volleyball nets of Tama. I see it in the familiar and now deepened friendships with Nina and Hannah. And no matter how much it makes me tear up to think of it, I see it in every one of my new friends. In Ernie's hand gestures, in Ryan and Kinga's boundless energy, in Brad's curls, in Lex's Bonds bra, in Rob's rosy cheeks, in Kyle's way of saying chips.

9,935 miles away, homesickness couldn't exist against a beautiful day sailing in Balmoral with Lach, Tom and Hannah, who welcomed Nina and I into their place which we made our own for the first month we were here. Nevs, Nomes and the Manly boys helped me discover that I could encounter home in the most unexpected place — camping. I've never felt a stronger sense of belonging than on my 26th birthday on a boat, cruising by the Sydney skyline with TimTams and papaw (thanks Lucy and Danielle). I found home last Christmas when I spent the morning having breakfast with Matt, Jacqui and her family and then the afternoon playing flip cup with the people who became mine. And honestly, that is what all of you have been — my family.

I came to Australia to figure out how to define home. And for me, it's not a house, a city, or even a place. A 9-year-old child I interviewed yesterday defined home as 'life' and she seems to have sussed everything out 17 years ahead of me. (Private school kid — figures). There's a quote that's been playing on repeat in my head this past week and I hate to be mushy and cliched, but I feel I have to add this: 'Where we love is home. Home that your feet may leave but not your heart.' Thank you all for being my life, my home, and my happiness this year.

As you may have noticed I've been a tad emotional lately. And as much as I'd like to leave gracefully and spend my final days being extra amazing and funny and witty and reminding everyone how much they love me so that when I leave they throw themselves to the ground in anguish, instead I've been a sniffling, needy, desperate mess who shuts cab doors in people's faces because I've decided they haven't sufficiently expressed how much they will miss me. So right now my friends are probably just thinking about how fast they can push me out the door. There are many things about me that have changed but losing my ego and narcissism aren't on that list. So, I'm going to keep making everyone declare their undying devotion, and Ryry, I'm going to take you up on your offer to name the garden after me. But please, if you do get chickens and pigs, I don't want any Lo Juniors running around 123 Blair.

In all seriousness, I am beyond grateful that I have such genuine friends who make saying goodbye seem like the most impossible task. I love you all. And you all better freaking love me right back.


P.S. I'm serious about the garden

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It's not a knife, it's a butter spreader

Wed, 09/01/2010 - 11:16PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

After traveling solo for a year, it can be a bit of an adjustment to start gallivanting around Europe with your family of six. Especially when you consider this family is equal parts Irish and Hispanic, which makes for quite the mixing bowl of tempers or rather, 'passionate emotional debates' that may or may not involve one person calling the other a 'drama llama'. A term, I assure you, I had no prior knowledge of but am now the better for hearing. Add in Mr. Max 'Sure I'll meet you in Europe because I have no idea what I'm getting myself into' Vorhoff who had the intelligence to take the 'make no sudden moves and pretend I'm invisible' tactic when slight tiffs inevitably broke out. Not to make it seem like the trip was all sibling rivalry and immature name-calling. In fact, it was mainly absolutely stunning scenery, grandiose attempts at jumping for a perfect family Christmas card,  and multiple searches for long-lost relatives. One visit, to a small village in Carna, was successful. We met the beautifully generous Gorhams, cousins via our great-grandfather John's youngest brother Joe. Our trip to find Sean Casey proved slightly fruitless, despite both a random town bartender and post-woman immediately recognizing his name and telling us exactly where he lived: 'Just turn right past the stream where the road forks.' Yes, I'm being serious. We left a note at his front door, took pictures in front of the house where my dad's grandmother used to live (in a totally non-creepy way that didn't cause the neighbors to come out and question us) and posed with his sheep. The local folk were out-of-this-world charming and helpful, although one request for a grocery store was met with 'I don't know about that, this town is just a lot of pubs'.

My mother made for a wonderful source of humor along the way as well. From her hilarious pronunciations of Irish towns ('Kinsále'), to her navigational skills (now I know where I get it from), to her walking into an O'Neill pottery shop, declaring in a thick Latin accent 'We are the O'Neil's and we are here to buy stuff!', and proceeding to explain to the confused owner how her Paraguayan self and he were, in fact, cousins. Another priceless moment was the look on my dad's face when he was stopped by security at the airport because my mother had forgotten to take silverware out of the carry-on. 'But — it's from Harrod's! It's Burberry! It's not a knife, it's a butter spreader!' Her stories of her rebel childhood past included a stellar love life — she dated a football player to the dismay of Abuelito, and also ran around with a guitar-playing rockstar 15 years older than her 'It was funny because at the concerts everyone would be saying how cute he was and I was like "Haha I'm dating him!"' My brother was so impressed he told her, 'Mom, you are a lot more interesting than you let on.' And that, I think, pretty much sums all of our family members up. Who am I kidding, we are exactly as interesting as we let on. Which is quite enough, I assure you.

And hey, I love my family. Drama llamas and all.

Picture caption: Max kindly played photographer for the group family photos. The photo above was taken at The Tower of London, which we were surprised to find is not actually a tall skyscraper-like tower, but a fort.

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Breakdown Palace

Tue, 07/20/2010 - 12:51AM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

Do you ever have moments where you stop and think to yourself 'This would make a great opening scene in a murder movie, starring myself as the victim?'

Thirty minutes after touching down at Chiang Mai, that was my exact mindset. So many of my laidback Aussie friends and fellow travelers told me not to overplan my trip to Thailand, despite the fact I was traveling alone and I'm a massive scaredy cat. I listened to them and didn't book a flight or hotel until the day before I arrived in Bangkok. Then, I attempted to book via my newly acquired iPod Touch. Bad idea. My mother had insisted I book a hotel and not a hostel, and who was I to deny my lovely mother? Sure it was $30 a night versus $10, but didn't I deserve to at least spend my first night in a nice place?

I cross referenced my lonely planet with Agoda, a discount hotel website, and found a four star place in old city. When I was satisfied with my decision I searched for 'Imperial' and booked the first one on the list. Here's a tip for you: if you are traveling in Asia, don't assume there's only one place in a city that begins with Imperial. I immediately noticed not only that mistake, but also saw that the dates were for three nights rather than the one I had intended. Freaking iPod. Things only worsened when I read the guidebook on my way to Chiang Mai and saw that 'resort' means 'not in an urban area' in Thailand.

It took me 45 minutes to get to my hotel from the airport. I passed downtown in the first five minutes. Let me tell you, there's little more alarming than driving through a foreign place in the middle of the night and being lead into the middle of a Northern Thai forest by a small man who barely speaks English. I gripped my cell phone close and then realized... I had nobody to even call if I got kidnapped. What is 911 in this country? Why did I not research this before? Why did I think it would be so exciting to travel alone? Interrupting my thoughts was the driver: 'You are SO far from town. Far, far away.' Not helping, thanks little man. Finally, we turned onto a gravel-paved road, driving for another 15 minutes with the lovely comment 'the hotel even far from main road! too far.'

When I walked up to check in, a small animal tail scurried under a stack of papers at the reception desk. I asked the receptionist when the free shuttle they advertised would go into the city the next day, and she said 'Well if only one guest, whenever you want.' I'm sorry, what? I hoped it was a language barrier that had me thinking she just said I was the only guest in this massive place. If I hadn't been on the verge of hysterical tears, I knew I would have found my situation funny. The security man lead me to my room, which was not as close to the main house as I would have liked. This was becoming a theme. I broke down as soon as I walked in the door and then comforted myself by going to the restaurant where there is food, wifi, and hopefully, other guests. (No such luck on the latter). Unfortunately it is an outdoor restaurant, and I was in the middle of the forest. Mosquitoes have never been my friends, but they were even less welcome since three people I know caught dengue fever in the land of Thai. I weighed the importance of internet with 'bone break fever' and opted for Facebook and Gmail. Obvi.

Everything is scarier at night, especially for someone who slept with the light on until she went to college. Okay, okay, if I'm alone in a new place I still do it. The next morning, with a clearer head, I realized I was a victim of white girl problems. Poor little Lorena, stuck in a beautiful Thailand forest in a three star hotel with a queen bed, a balcony, and a full staff of the nicest and smiliest staff in the world. Wah, wah, wah. Don't get me wrong, I still left the hotel as soon as I could (ps there were other guests that had been hiding as a cruel joke against me) and am now at a friend of a friend's house equipped with bug spray and a moto-bike chauffeur to get me anywhere in the city. (Thanks Chris). So Mother Dearest, don't worry, I have new travel buddies and won't get kidnapped in Thailand or Laos. Can't make any promises for Cambodia though.

(Sidenote: I will write about Ireland and my family adventures there, but it deserves accompanying photographs as Ireland is beyond gorgeous and cannot be explained in just words. I will upload photos when I am bored and have heaps of time with a computer and internet. Which hopefully won't be until August 7, since I will be too busy whining about traveling from one paradise to another)

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Sun, 05/30/2010 - 6:17PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

Dear Bondi sky,

I give up. You win. Even if I go back and 'marry' America by returning there forever, you can satisfy yourself with the knowledge that I will always be emotionally cheating on the US with you.

Let's face it, the past month you have been treating me like shit. You've been cold and shut me out, hiding behind bleak grey clouds. And just when I thought I was in the clear, when I thought I could cope with the fact I'll be leaving you in October, you reel me back in. Do you have some special psychic warning signal, beeping 'WATCH OUT, LORENA'S GETTING OVER YOU. MUST DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND ROMANTIC'? Jerk. You're that bad-for-me boyfriend unapologetically keeping me away from my friends and family, who hate you, by the way.

One day, I will leave you. The time will come when I will wave goodbye and not look back. Well, that's not entirely true. Of course I'll look back, stalk you on Facebook, google you, frame photographs of us in my room and develop FOMS (Fear Of Missing Sky). And don't think I won't judge and hate every single girl who sleeps under you and takes pictures with you while wearing cheesy I <3 Bondi shirts. Ugh, sluts.

Anyways, mark my words, I will leave you. One day. Just not today.

P.S. Tonight took my breath away. Same place/time tomorrow?

Picture caption: Winter sunset from the rocks at North Bondi Beach

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Does This Mean I Won't Fail Life?

Wed, 05/19/2010 - 5:27PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

I’m usually not friends with the kind of people who don’t join Facebook. How am I supposed to shove my utopian life in their face if they can’t see my various albums? How can I make people that called me Bucky Beaver in middle school look at my perfect teeth and beautiful friends, if they refuse to join the social networking site designed to be the virtual equivalent of a daily high school reunion?

That being said, up until this week one of my closest friends, David Bordson-Bozzo was not on the great FB. Bozzo (yes, like the clown, but far more intelligent) has remained in my life, regardless of his lack of FB activity in the past. And now that he has joined the rest of us glorious lemmings I thought I’d support his decision by going through all of my old albums and tagging him in them, so he wouldn’t be marked as a leper for having too few photos. I dedicated myself to tagging him in everything, starting with my most recent albums.  I still have to write a newsletter, make three new Facebook albums, and a Groove in the Moo video. And all of those things are sort of overwhelming. Procrastination was necessary. Tagging … tagging I can handle.

But then I realized, if I continue on my tagging frenzy over the next few weeks, his most recent photos would actually be ones from him in college. So, in Facebook world he would be like Benjamin Button — growing backwards.

I was contemplating this conundrum while walking through Hyde Park in the CBD (central business district) of Sydney. Hyde Park has always reminded me of Locust Walk around the holidays, with it’s tree-lined sidewalk, lit up by fairy lights (what Aussies call Christmas lights). It was cold and raining, perfect Philly weather, and I was thinking about Bozzo’s birthday senior year where he dressed up like Flavor Flav. I was walking straight when all of a sudden, I instinctively found myself walking along the circumference of the circle pictured below:

Apologies to my Aussie and American friends who did not attend Penn (not because you didn’t get to have the wonderful Quaker experience, although I apologize for that as well), you will most likely not understand this post. (Ernie, please contain your FOMO.) But to the rest of my collegiate buddies… I think you know why I avoided walking straight through this circle. Yup. The compass.

To all you outsiders: the compass at Penn was situated on Locust Walk, and “legend” was (note: Aussies, I do not mean legend in the way you overuse it to signify an awesome person, I’m using it like “myth”) if you walked over it your freshman year before your first midterm, you would fail. Some socially inadequate human beings, because there were many at Penn, would awkwardly insist on doing this 100% of the time. I, being superstitious — not to be confused with socially inadequate, mind you — would only avoid crossing the compass when sober as a freshman, which was about 40% of the time. (Maybe less, but my parents read this now).

That being said, for some reason I resorted to first semester freshman year tactics while walking through Hyde Park. But, it’s not really a surprise considering the endless amount of parallels I can draw between my time in college and my time in Australia. Shirking all responsibilities and commitments has its perks. Grow up Peter Pan? Not likely.

Top Picture: Bozzo and I in New Orleans. Left Picture: No I have not turned into a slender businessman, this is a photo I stole off the internet since I don't have my camera with me to document the HP circle and needed to get this up soon so I could cross something off my to do list. Even if it wasn't ever on my list, I added it just so I can cross it off.

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A Peek Into the Life of Honeymoon Crashing

Sun, 04/25/2010 - 11:54AM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

Today marks one week of being on the road with Jeff and Magge on their honeymoon, and I have to say that being the third wheel on this adventure has been amazing so far. The first few days of our travel were marked with too much driving, brown water, and not enough doing stuff as Magge so aptly said. Since then though we've climbed boulders barefoot on top of gorgeous waterfalls, and visited some pretty wonderful rainforests. Sure, I got a little lonely while watching the newlyweds frolick around in multiple waterfalls that looked like they'd been landscaped by Walt Disney himself (shout out to Arvida the maker of Weston and Disneyworld), but I had the Jucy Choppa and nature as my lovers throughout the trip. Daytime nature, I should say. Nighttime nature I hate with a passion. I just cannot relate to people who coo at a possums (not to be confused with Virginia Opossums from the states, these are slightly cuter), and relish at the sound of frogs surrounding your kitchen area. I mean Cane toads can secrete poisonous juice from behind their eyes and KILL you right away. Not shocking since everything in Australia is terrifying. But, as we've said multiple times so far 'This is an adventure' and when we were washing dishes in the pitch darkness of a caravan park's disgusting sink (my germaphobia is being majorly repressed on this trip) it was nice that we could still laugh because as Jeff pointed out 'C'mon. We're in AUSTRALIA!' And he was right. So what if I appreciated eating in the dark and not seeing the millions of bugs drowning in my butter chicken curry. The whole 'more protein' thing has never worked on me but we'll see when I get to Thailand. Anyways, today we are taking a break from living in cars and having me renew my faith in God and praying while sleeping on top of the van in a tall tent during a lightning storm, and taking off on a catamaran through the Whitsundays. Life. is. rough.

Here's a look at the trip so far...

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Honeymoon Crashing — The Prequel

Wed, 04/14/2010 - 3:10PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

This is the 'Jucy Choppa' vehicle I will be traveling in for the next two weeks. That little tent on top will be my new home!

From April 17 until May 2 I will be joining Jeff and Magge on the Brisbane-Cairns roadtrip part of their hostel honeymoon adventure. I've already been warned that Jeff doesn't appreciate slowness/unathleticism and Magge blisters easily. The newlyweds have only brought one backpack each for their entire 13 month tour of the world, leaving me to cringe at the thought I had 'packed light' with 2.5 suitcases for my time in Australia.

While I cant offer anything in the athletic department, whatsoever, I'm already planning on being an upbeat T-Dubz (third wheel). The only time I will definitely be annoying is when we are driving. I recently received a $146 traffic ticket sent to my MOTHER in the states for going the equivalent of 5 miles over the speed limit. It is one of the few lovers' quarrels I've had with Australia** but I blame Victoria because NSW would never do that to me. Right? Guess I shouldn't test it, can't trust ANYONE these days.

Anyways, I'm off to pack up my little apartment and shed a tear or 100 about moving out. Now I'm moving to the traveling-intensive portion of my Aussie life. Bondi, I'll miss you. Don't worry — the Jucy Choppa won't have anything on you.

**I'm also fairly upset about the whole 70 degree weather thing. Freezing. Time to migrate up north for the winter ... and even though that is logically correct, it still sounds backwards to me. Love that being here is like living on groundhog opposite day.

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Glamping... Hold the Glam

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 10:59PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

‘The boot's chockers can you take this esky up?' Chris said to me. It was 4AM, way too early in the morning to understand Australian-speak. I used my context clues to determine Chris was asking me to bring his cooler upstairs since the trunk was too full to fit it. We were going 5 hours north to Crescent Head to camp for my friend Nevs’ 25th birthday celebration.

I'd never been camping, a fact that apparently every single Australian has difficulty comprehending. 'Wait, what? You've never been camping ... like in Australia?' 'No, in my life.' 'EVAH?!' 'Ever.' Then the dumbfounded Aussie would walk away, looking back at me like I had grown two heads.

All I knew about camping I learned from watching The Parent Trap. I always felt bad for the prissy girlfriend character in those scenes because I could totally see myself tapping sticks to scare away the animals. Nina told me the boys always buy a jar of honey on the way to Limeburners’ campsite. That had me worried a bear would come storm our tents, just like in the movie. That is until my friend Will pointed out there are no bears in Australia, something that, quite frankly, never crossed my mind.

Some other things also never crossed my mind. Like the whole no microwave, stove, running water, fridge, or showers part. Seems silly I know, but at first I only focused on the sleeping-in-the-tent part. So in my twisted world of camping, I slept in a tent with the threat of non-existent Australian bears, but without the inconveniences of a full kitchen and bathroom. As a control freak, I hated not knowing what I was doing. When Hannah asked if we needed a flashlight (which the three of us Americans were constantly reminded is called a ‘torch’ in Australia), I found her hilarious. How overly-cautious she was being! It’s not like the electricity was going to go… oh. Wait. All of these small revelations would come to me in waves, and I was a bundle of nerves by the time we left.

When we arrived at Limeburner’s I headed to the bathroom to change and immediately became distraught at the lack of a sink. I had interpreted ‘no running water’ to mean ‘you can’t shower’ and ‘buy drinking water ahead of the trip.’ This was enough to worry about even though I don’t particularly enjoy showering and I barely have two glasses of water a day. While grocery shopping ahead of the trip I was in a state of panic. Would I die of thirst? Would I have to leave ocean water out in an attempt to evaporate salt? (At this time I didn’t realize the town was a mere 15 minutes away).

So the lack of sink was my newest concern. Being unable to wash my hands disgust me. And it didn't just affect my hands. I had brought antibacterial soap (two bottles, in case of emergencies), but not enough for all 25 people we were camping with. People peeing and God forbid, pooping, (something I couldn’t bring myself to do while squatting) without washing their hands and then cooking food I would eat??

The whole no-flushing-toilet also confounded me. I spent five full minutes looking around for a flusher, thinking ‘crazy Aussies, putting the flusher somewhere weird.’ Nope. The toilet was just a glorified hole in the ground that smelled so much by the end of the weekend all the girls were popping squats behind cars. The odour proved not everyone had my non-squatting poop problem. Chris explained that every few days a pooper-scooper-like-truck would vacuum everything out and take it away. Gross. This was not exactly the ‘glamping’ experience (camping-lite) my friend Fiona had told me was becoming popular in Oz.

On the upside our tent had a floor! I thought that the bottom of tents were open, like teepees, and I was worried about snakes and spiders slithering in the glass underneath. I even told Nina to lift the tent to put the air mattress underneath and she just laughed at me. I was also stoked to see the mesh door that would help keep out the large python, goana and kangaroos we spotted… as long as we kept it zipped shut. (Right Hannah?)

Before I left, my coworker Lucy’s only advice to me was ‘You just CAN’T be a girl about it.’ And, surprisingly enough once I replayed that in my head, I was fine. It’s like when I was on the Goornong farm and a horse sneezed all over my hand. I shrieked, looked down in horror and Stephen responded by saying ‘You’re on a farm. You’re going to get dirty. Get used to it.’ And my germaphobia shut the eff up for the remainder of the trip.

To my utter astonishment, I found everything about camping amazing. The bonfires, the gorgeous beaches, the fact we were saving a fortune staying in tents rather than a beach house. It was even cheaper when we hid from the ranger in our tents with our VB keeping us company when he came to collect. Nevs’ facepainting us with caveman art for no reason whatsoever. The rave cave tent we ran to when it rained, where we danced to strobe lights created by flickering ‘torches’. The fact it didn’t bother me I didn’t look at a mirror for three days. I didn’t even get desperate enough to pull a Narcissus and stare at the lake for hours. Pat. On. The. Back.

A big treat was playing shoot, shag or marry with everyone and everything including colors/colours (blue, green, yellow) and countries (England, US, Australia). I shot yellow, shagged green and married blue. I’m fearful of revealing what I said for countries. It’s like being asked to tell your high school sweetheart you aren’t going to get married. Your first love is great, don't get me wrong, but it’s not the same as falling hard. And no matter where I am, my heart will always belong to Australia. How could it not? I liked camping. And a country that can make me appreciate nature so deeply … I mean, WHERE is the ring? Just sayin’.

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Fortunate Fools

Thu, 04/01/2010 - 3:37PM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

I love April Fools' Day. I like to try to trick as many people as possible with the same joke as long as possible. Last year I convinced multiple friends of mine that I was engaged to Max. I was even debating buying a fake diamond ring, but opted against it. Max didn't find that as amusing as I did. Oops.

This year, I thought I could trick a few of my friends back home even BETTER than usual because it would be April Fools where I was, but not where they were. PLUS I could trick a lot of people in my office who are unsuspecting about my love of the holiday. But the best laid plan of mice and liars...

After we left our morning news meeting (complete with updates about Tiger and tampons ... you don't want to know) I mentioned to Lucy I was excited it was April Fools Day. 'Yeah, but it's after noon.'

Umm, so?

Apparently in Australia you can't play an April Fools joke unless it's before noon otherwise 'the joke's on you' (which doesn't even make sense). And in the spirit of being an honorary Australian, since I already messed up this morning and called an esky a cooler, I will follow the rules. Since I've been reigned in and have no fun stories to tell, thought I'd share a semi-relevant-to-this-blog article for your mild entertainment.

Restaurant charges 'thongage'

The sign on the door of John Spellman's Tramontana restaurant - don't say you weren't warned

A DARWIN restaurant is charging patrons $10 for wearing thongs while they dine.

The "thongage" charge is announced in a sign on the door of John Spellman's Tramontana restaurant on McMinn St.

Last night Mr Spellman said the "campaign" was setting the tone for his "boutique" restaurant. "It's a formal restaurant - tablecloths, napkins. I wear shoes and socks," he said.

"There's actually a button on the register. I just put it on the bill - you don't have to argue about it. Two lamb chops, one thongage.'

Spellman's notoriety grew early this year when he gave a group of diners $10 and told them to go do McDonald's. They had complained about the service and wanted to split their drinks bill.

via NTnews

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I Love Lucy

Wed, 03/24/2010 - 9:26AM by Lorena O 0 Comments -

‘How cute are the Jolie-Pitt twins?’ -Me

‘Well the girl looks like a low-rent Shiloh. And the boy looks like a houso.’ -Lucy

‘Houso?’ -Me

‘You know, someone that lives in a housing commission. The projects.’ -Lucy